C.I.A. Plotted Killing of 58 in Guatemala
The Central Intelligence Agency, plotting to overthrow the Guatemalan Government in the early 1950's, drew up a ''disposal list'' of at least 58 key leaders, and it trained assassins to kill them, newly declassified documents show.
The coup, code-named Operation Success, toppled the freely elected President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and installed the first of a series of right-wing leaders friendly to the United States.
The assassination plans were never carried out, according to an official C.I.A. history of the coup. ''Until the day that Arbenz resigned in June 1954 the option of assassination was still being considered,'' the history concludes.
The 1,400 pages of newly declassified documents represent fewer than 1 percent of the C.I.A.'s files on the coup. A former C.I.A. official, Clair E. George, testified in 1983 that the agency's records on the coup ran to about 180,000 pages.
The C.I.A. also deleted the names of the Americans who carried out the coup. Those whose titles show up, but whose names were stricken from the records, include agency officials whose identities have long been public, like Frank Wisner, then the agency's chief of covert operations, and his field commander for the coup, Col. Albert Haney. This censorship drew a statement of regret on Sunday from Guatemala's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduardo Stein.
The documents add at least three sets of important new information to the historical record: the existence of the assassination plans of the agency, aspects of its propaganda campaign against Mr. Arbenz, and details of the agency's early efforts to recruit members of the Guatemalan military.
The planning began in 1952, after the President of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, proposed to President Harry S. Truman that they work together to overthrow Mr. Arbenz, who had been elected in 1950. Mr. Arbenz's left-wing politics angered the United States.
Mr. Truman told the C.I.A. to go forward. The agency launched a short-lived operation, shipping guns and money to Guatemalan exiles. The operation's cover was blown within five weeks and it was abandoned in October 1952. But the plan lived on.
In 1953, under President Eisenhower, the C.I.A. drew up plans for assassinations, sabotage and propaganda to overthrow Mr. Arbenz. The assassination list contained the names of at least 58 Guatemalan supporters of Mr. Guzman who the C.I.A. suspected were Communists. Late that year, the National Security Council gave Operation Success the go-ahead. The State Department, by then led by John Foster Dulles, the brother of the Director of Central Intelligence, Allen W. Dulles, worked closely with the C.I.A.
The coup went quickly, from June 16 through June 27, 1954, with radio propaganda and political subversion proving to be the most effective weapons. Mr. Arbenz resigned, denounced the United States and took refuge in Mexico.
C.I.A. plans for Operation Success called for the assassinations, and the plans were discussed in great detail at very high levels of the agency and the State Department, the records show.
No record of the formal approval or disapproval of the plans by President Eisenhower or the Dulles brothers has been made public. None likely exists. The newly released files include a 22-page how-to manual on murder that says, ''No assassination instructions should ever be written or recorded.''
The C.I.A. records show that it conducted what it called a ''nerve war'' against some of these targets -- government officials, ''unfriendly army officers'' and the like -- in 1953 and 1954. Its plans included sending them death threats; telephoning them, ''preferably between 2 and 5 A.M.,'' with blood-curdling warnings, and denouncing them to their superiors with accusations ranging ''from treason to tax evasion.''
And they show that the agency considered the Guatemalan military ''the only organized element in Guatemala'' through which political change could take place. That change, says a 1953 C.I.A. document, had to begin with the ''subversion and defection of army leaders.'' The agency has had Guatemalan military men on its payroll ever since.
The 1954 coup was the first chapter in the C.I.A.'s long and continuing liaison with the Guatemalan military. Those ties deepened over the decades during a scorched-earth campaign against a small Communist insurgency. The civil war in Guatemala, touched off in part by the coup, ended only five months ago. More than 100,000 civilians were killed.
The New York Times